MANILA – Ever since Filipino-American activist Melissa Roxas filed a petition for writ of amparo before the Supreme Court accusing military men of abducting and torturing her, the public has never heard from her two Filipinos companions, Juanito Carabeo and John Edward Jandoc.
The three were abducted by suspected military agents on May 19 in La Paz, Tarlac. Roxas was released on May 25 and soon went back to the United States to reunite with her family and seek medical treatment.
But whatever happened to Carabeo and Jandoc?
In a press conference Sunday in Los Angeles, California, Roxas said she still fears for the safety of the two men. “I live with that fear each day,” she said. She said she, too, has not heard of any news about them.
Based on Roxas’s affidavit, the three were conducting a survey in the village for a future medical mission when the abduction happened.
Roxas’s lawyer, Rex Fernandez, told the Court of Appeals (CA) hearing the write of amparo petition that Carabeo and Jandoc had opted to remain silent.
In an interview with Bulatlat, Sister Cecil Ruiz, chairperson of Karapatan in Central Luzon, said she was able to interview Carabeo a day after he was released by their captors.
“His relatives informed me that he was released on the night of the same day that Melissa was freed,” Sister Ruiz said.
Ruiz and some human-rights volunteers in Tarlac were the first to look for Roxas, Carabeo and Jandoc. Carabeo’s sister Luz and his niece sought Sister Ruiz to help them find Carabeo. The human-rights workers went to the place of the incident; the barangay (village) captain confirmed that the abduction had indeed taken place.
Sister Ruiz and her colleagues went to the Philippine National Police (PNP) office in La Paz and got a copy of the report of the incident. Later that day, they went to all military camps in Tarlac in search of the three missing.
On the night of May 25, the same day that Roxas was freed, Sister Ruiz said she received a message from Carabeo’s relatives that Carabeo had come back home. She went to see Carabeo the next day.
“He told me what their abductors did to them,” Sister Ruiz said. “He said they were blindfolded and tortured for six days.”
Asked what kind of torture Carabeo was subjected to, Sister Ruiz said that like Roxas, the torture method applied on Carabeo was asphyxiation. Two plastic bags were used to cover his head while his arms and legs were being stretched out by the abductors.
“He was also heavily interrogated. His captors wanted him to admit that he is a member of the New People’s Army. He was beaten repeatedly,” Sister Ruiz said. Carabeo later complained of pain in the stomach.
He also told Sister Ruiz that he was handcuffed. Sister Ruiz said Carabeo’s wrists had abrasion marks when she saw him. He never sought medical treatment though.
“His relatives want him to remain silent about the incident. They told me that nothing would happen anyway even if they would file complaints against Carabeo’s torturers,” Sister Ruiz said.
Asked about Jandoc, Sister Ruiz said a relative of Jandoc in Aurora province sent a text message to Sister Ruiz’s colleague in Aurora that Jandoc had also been freed.
“We were informed that he is now staying with his uncle,” Sister Ruiz said. The human rights leader said she did not have the chance to talk with Jandoc. “I am told that Jandoc’s relatives do not want to speak on the incident, too,” Ruiz told Bulatlat.
Ghay Portajada, secretary-general of Desaperacidos, a group of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances, told Bulatlat that they respect the victims’ decision to keep silent. “We understand the trauma that they are suffering from and the fear of their families,” Portajada said.
“They are still afraid and that emotion is expected from the victims of abductions and torture,” she said. “The psychological impact of torture is worse than the physical.”
She said she still hopes that Carabeo and Jandoc will muster enough strength to come out and tell their side of story. “Telling their story will help them recover from their trauma,” Portajada said.
In its initial report, the Tarlac Provincial Police Office claimed that Carabeo is a regular member of the NPA and has pending criminal cases. The same information about Carabeo is indicated in the report of the regional office of the police.
Karapatan legal counsel Rex Fernandez criticized the police for focusing on the profile of the victims instead of the perpetrators.
Sister Ruiz said it has been a practice of the state agents to tag victims of human rights violations as NPA members. “No firearms were found,” she pointed out. Sister Ruiz said that red baiting is part of the counter-insurgency program of the Arroyo administration.
Missing activist Jonas Burgos, as well as several others before, was also tagged by the military as a member of the NPA, reflecting what appears to be a standard operating procedure in the military when issues like this crop up, human-rights advocates say.
“Even if they are NPA members or Abu Sayyaf, unless they are engaged in a firefight, they are entitled to due process of law,” lawyer Jobert Pahilga, deputy secretary general for campaigns and advocacy of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), said in an interview.
Pahilga said that assuming for the sake of argument that Carabeo is an NPA, the state forces should have brought him to court and file rebellion charges against him. “All suspects should be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
In fact, under international humanitarian law and the rules of conflict, even combatants captured during conflict should be treated humanely.
“Tagging Carabeo as a rebel does not give authority to any one to harass or torture him,” he added. “His being an NPA, if this were true, is immaterial and irrelevant to the abduction and torture,” he said.
Pahilga said the tagging is part of the military’s diversionary tactic and consistent with the government’s claim that the abduction and torture was stage-managed. “They want to create conditions to cover up the truth,” he said.
He pointed out that most of the victims of enforced disappearances were also branded by state agents as NPA rebels or sympathizers. “What happened to Roxas, Carabeo and Jandoc is a manifestation of the continuing repression of vocal critics of the Arroyo government,” Pahilga said, noting the 2010 deadline set by the administration to end the three-decades old communist movement in the Philippines. (Bulatlat)